Katsina State governor, Aminu Masari in this interview with select journalists, declared that only someone from the moon can defeat President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. He also spoke on a wide range of national and state issues. JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH was there for LEADERSHIP FRIDAY.
Katsina ranks among the states that are up to date in payment of salaries, but a group of workers have been agitating that you are owing them salaries for over a year. What’s the true situation here?
First of all, it is good you asked this question, I saw an article like that or so but let us go back to history before we can understand the situation clearly. First of all, when we came, we met a lot of arrears, unpaid gratuity and pensions, we also saw that government had removed from the payroll, over 3000 workers without any notice or verification exercise, they just woke up and found their names removed and so we promised. This is because when we came, they were in court with the government and we promised to look into their cases. So, when we came, first of all , we dealt with the tissue of unpaid arrears, accrued pension, unpaid gratuity and other allowances. In May, 2015, the previous government gave appointment letters to over 1700 people, who were supposed to start getting their salaries by May ending. So, we were confronted with these two problems. First, we put a halt on the recruitment of those in May to assess their letters and qualifications, to see whether they had the qualifications, we did that. Those who had teaching qualification, we deployed them appropriately and even those with other qualifications were deployed appropriately. We did not sack them except those we found out had no single certificate or evidence of attending any school. So, we set up a committee to sort out those workers whose names were removed from the payroll and that was done successfully and correctly because we looked at the verification and added them based on their qualifications and areas of competence. Those who didn’t have enough qualifications, we posted them appropriately. Those who died, we gave their families six month salaries with benefits for their loss.Those we returned into salary system, we said we were returning them but we were not responsible for salary arrears and we did that.Then you know the state government was sourcing loans to pay salaries, then we said let us do verification to pay salaries in the local governments. We did two to three verifications, we did for all workers, health workers, teachers and we discovered along the line that there were some issues where people were given appointment letters and they had never visited the local governments, because all these issues are local government issues and not state government issues .So, we did verification and set up a committee to look into what was done and these people could not justify or defend their letters of appointment. Let me give you an example of an employee who worked with Sabo Local Government: this is his letter of appointment and posting to the local government service commission and you will go to Sabo and they will tell you they don’t know this person, go to the head of unit and they will tell you I have never seen this person and I don’t know him. We discovered some of them were knowing their local government of posting for the first time, they were never there. There were so many allegations of how they got their letters of appointments, some say they bought them, others said it was sold at the local government service commission, they have messed up the local government system. Aims for which local governments were created e defeated. None of the local governments can meet the most basic which is the payment of salaries. As at July last year, when the salaries of local governments started to improve, we had put into the local government system, N7.9bn to support the local governments from 2015 to July 2017. We are trying to see how we can resolve the issue. If these people have teaching qualification and have these appointments, our conditions to them is that we will re-absorb them from today and post them. It means we are giving them fresh appointments because everywhere they claimed to have been working, people are saying they have never seen them. We did two verifications including an appeal committee. Instead of listening and working with us, they went to court. They are now in industrial court, what do you want us to do, they said they are dying but what about the ordinary persons that have been cheated out? You are busy collecting money that you have never worked for, either because you have a relation in the local goverment system or you bought the offer. I think there should be a request from local government A, for instance, that you want so and so number of staff, even if there are vacancies, because vacancies are projections. But the actual need will be stated by those in the local government and there was no request and no need .The previous government, especially when they knew that they had lost elections, were beating their chest saying the next government would not be able to pay salaries and would crash. It was a booby trap that we were able to successfully navigate out of. The vision of those who created the local government system was just not to elect people and pay them salaries but working for the salaries because coming to office, if I should come and sit here for eight hours without doing anything, it is as good as I didn’t come. Maybe I have intention to work but there is no work, there is no money left to create activities in the local government system which is why they just go at the end of the month to collect salaries. And even if they go, there are no activities because all the funds meant for local governments have been distributed to individuals. I am not talking about those claiming wives and friends of big men , that they don’t reside in the local government or work in the local government , some even outside the state but their names are on the payroll and these are the same set of people who are saying they are taking us to industrial court. Let us wait and see what the industrial court will do and take it from there.
The opposition, PDP seems to be gaining good ground in the state ahead of 2019. What is your take on that?
Billboards and posters mean nothing. It is meant to confuse people. Do you know that if I take N10,000 and give them too and tell them to distribute any posters along the road, they will do it? Anybody who is a politician, we have already put instructions out, put your posters in your office. We don’t want to see posters and Billboards on the roads in Katsina State again, if you want to do it there is a price . Every outdoor advertisement has cost element to it. Go and pay and erect your billboard , rent an offfice. Don’t disfigure the city. If you go around Katsina from now, you will not see them again. We will remove everything, both APC, PDP and anybody. If you are sure of yourself, go and rent an office, not rent almajiris and give them posters to spread on the roads, because the billboards across the roads have no ownership. Any advertisement of a political party that has ownership should be a building or a rented space by someone who believes. These are public highways, they belong to everybody. They are intended to confuse the ordinary person. If you had seen our congress on Saturday, you would have believed all these things are nonsense. In order to stop confusing people, we said everybody should remove their posters. We were liberal and too democratic and people were abusing the privilege. We are not the cleanest city in Nigeria but we are among those who maintain and clean the environment. We will not allow people to continue disfiguring public properties because of our liberal nature .We have put a stop to it .Under the environment protection agency, we have the laws and we will invoke the necessary laws since people are becoming irresponsible. We know a notorious person who is very keen and bought a printing press, since it is his printing press, he can print one million and give it to 5,000 people and give them N5,000 each and will put his posters across the state with less than one million. Tell me any prominent person that left APC for PDP but I can tell you from the speaker who was speaker for eight years ,Senators , House of Representatives, State Assembly, previous chairmen, councilors have all joined APC, so who is there in PDP? It’s on record.
Are you saying 2019 will be a walk over for the APC in the state ?
Because we believe in God and believe in time but let them come, we are not even talking about winning elections in 2019 , we want to win it in such a way that we will support other areas that didn’t deliver as much as they did in 2015.
Taking about the posters, will the policy affect billboards of that of the president?
Yes, as long as it is on the road and within the prohibited area . If you want to put a billboard of the president and I and you feel so confident ,go and pay but littering the streets and disturbing traffic is not something we will allow.
As a former Speaker and now a governor, how will you assess the relationship between the National Assembly and the executive?
First, to understand the current relationship between the executive and legislature, you have to go back to history on how the leadership of the two chambers emerged . The way and manner the leadership of the two chambers emerged is the root cause of the friction that is existing between the National Assembly and the legislature. On the other hand, there should aways be friction between the executive and the legislature because if the assembly is working as it should in the interest of the public and the country and the executive is always working for the interest of the people and the country, there are bound to be clashes because they are representatives and these are the executives. One executes and the other one carries out oversights. Efforts of each of the two, as provided in the constitution, will definitely lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding. That’s why the courts are there to interprete the provisions of the law as it taffects the relationship between the two arms of government. This is a natural thing anywhere in the world. The peculiar one is the one which the National Assembly started in 2011. The speaker of the House from 2011 to 2015, emerged, not on the basis of the agreement of the party and that strained relationship continued with the House leadership up tilll the end of that tenure. The current leadership of the National Assembly emerged against the will and arrangement of the party, so that has put a sour taste as regards the relationship between the executive and legislature and this is what will continue till 2019 and, we hope that by 2019, we must have learnt our lessons that there should be no interference in exercising the rights of members to elect who they wish as their presiding officers.There is need for that body to come to agreement and the executive in the best interest of the nation because our democracy is still in the learning stage, you can see after 20 years. 20 years is something in the life of an individual but not in the life of a nation, because it is negatively affecting the National Assembly and the system, that’s why every year or term, over 60 per cent of lawmakers don’t return. That 60 per cent, with the billions spent on them has gone down the drain, they are always learning. Parliamentarians do better, the longer they remain in the Parliament, the better they become .Why are we not stable in the National Assembly, why is our politics not stable, we need to look at the cost of governance, the way we run our democracy. The element the media is giving too much attention to as regards what the National and State Assembly lawmakers are earning and that is what is encouraging people. If this is what people are getting, I will go and get too. So, it has a negative way of affecting the system so we cannot afford that every four years, we spend billions and immediately we want to start reaping the fruits of our investment. I think we need to look at the way we operate this democracy, guide it properly in the best interests of the people, not in the best interest of individuals.
Still on the National Assembly! The House of Reps has announced that it will pass the budget this week after it has been lying there for about six months. In your capacity as former speaker and now governor, do you think the NASS has any justification for the delay in passing the budget!
From October to now, I don’t think anyone can justify the delay. My prayer to the assembly and the executive is that we should come to some form of agreement because this administration will come to an end by May 29 next year. We started this when we had this delay when I was speaker. The delay in that case came from the executive, who submitted the budget very late and the budget was completed between February and March. So, we said for the capital, you could roll it to the end of March. So, significantly, we would have done the 12 months that is required of the budget, which is in terms of capital but recurrent is an ongoing thing. So if you are taking the budget till the end of May, it means you are taking the budget to the end of this tenure. It means the concerning the 2019 budget, the legislature will not have the time. And if the trend continues, what will be the purpose of passing the 2019 budget at the end of May? It will only serve the new government. So, really we need to look at the nation first. The problem I have seen is that we should look at the country, if what we do will please majority of Nigerians, the National Assembly should look at the nation. If they have misunderstanding with either the party or executive, it should not impact negatively on the people they represent.
Just recently, the UN released a report that in the north, over 10.5 million children are out of school. I would like to know what educational policy you have introduced in the state to address this issue.
This is no news. In fact, you are even reducing the number. They said it is 13 million and about 10 are in the northern part of the country and even in the northern part, North West where we belong, has the highest, maybe because of its population, of this out of school children. What we are doing first of all is to increase enrollment and you cannot increase enrollment without increasing the number of classrooms and employ more teachers. On Saturday, there was a programme, which I saw here, one of the states was showing how a primary school has collapsed completely, it is only one of the sections that is standing. This is a typical situation we met in Katsina. We met an enrollment figure of about 1.3 million but when we did a head count, we only got like 790,000. Where are the rest? Either they have left school or else they were never there in the first place and we discovered that the primary school system has almost totally collapsed. We had a deficit of over 23, 000 teachers. Of the ones we have called teachers, not more than 40 per cent of them have teaching qualification. First, there were no training, refresher courses for teachers, no teaching materials or aides. The classes became where the animals go in the evening after classes. And we discovered that in order to house at least 50 per classroom, you need nothing less than another 15 thousand classes across the state. We were just discussing with the Commissioner of Education, they did a survey this year, if we are to provide furniture for secondary schools alone, we need over 60,000 because over 50 per cent of our schools have no furniture not to talk of teachers. We are replacing all the teachers. What we did is that concerning all the teachers that were retiring, we tried to find out how much we would be saving as a result of that, and we discovered that we were going to be saving 8 million. We then decided that out of this 8 million, how much was their pension and if pension was 4 or 5 million, our saving would be 3 million. We employed fresh graduates with that 3 million. This is what we are doing every quarter and now, we said since we can’t get all the teachers, let us start an experiment.
We are employing 5000 teachers; those who have NCE and degrees in education should be posted to primary schools. Even concerning that one, we have not addressed 50 per cent of the shortfall but if it works in the next three months, we will employ another 5000 from the vacancies that will be created after retirement or from teachers leaving the service. Then, we will be recruiting these ones and putting them on permanent payroll. We believe that there will be a training ground before we transfer them into the mainstream civil service and we believe it will help us to reduce unemployment and help in rebuilding the educational sector, which Katsina is known for. Unless we do that, we cannot address out-of-school children. We set up a committee under one learned Koranic scholar, who later went to do western education and retired with masters from Islamic studies. We are abandoning what the previous government did on Almajiris’ school system. What we are working on is a situation where a Mallam has 500 children. We will come to your school and see how we can improve the living conditions. We will provide water through borehole system so the children do not have to travel far. Then, we will provide shelter instead of sleeping outside and that will stop lice and bedbugs. We want to try and take one or two and start experimenting from there. We will introduce carpentry, welding, vulcanising, electrical and teach them that in the evening, instead of walking about, why don’t you learn something, then you have your Koranic education and your trade. For you to be a good carpenter or welder, you need to learn some western education alphabet because all the measurement that are coming are coming in English. In a society like ours, you need to come through a system they believe in.
How are your addressing the problem of girl-child education in the state?
What we are doing now is giving special treatment to women to allow their children to go to school. Luckily, UNICEF has come out with a programme through the World Bank where women are empowered principally to let their girl-child go to school under the programme. We, as a state, through the feeding programme, have 100 per cent of those participating to be women and we are doing it to increase their economic capabilities to allow their girl child go to school and presently, we are training over 1000 rural women in the primary school. We train women in localities so that they will be able to teach in that locality. Through that, we are addressing deficiencies in the area of girl-child education.
Where do you intend to get money to complete the health and education projects in your state?
We discovered that you don’t need so much to do so much, you need very little to do so much. Our pricing reflects what is obtainable in Katsina and again, we don’t put pressure on any contractor so that we don’t compromise quality or quantity. Again for most of our projects, we used Paris Club money to finance our them and I am sure that by the time we get the last tranche of the Paris club this year, I am telling you that based on all the projections we started, in 2019 our state will be looking different. It is doable, we discovered that nothing is impossible to a determined leadership; the problem with this country is leadership. We have the money and the resources, Katsina is normally number six in terms of federation account because we have the population and number of local governments but how come? We were number one in the north in terms of education, we came to 33, so we are only better than three states, when Katsina used to be a destination for education in northern Nigeria. For us in Katsina, I don’t see anything that’s impossible. Any problem created by any human being can be solved.
The opposition party is mobilising, the intention is that they want to have a single candidate in 2019 that will challenge President Muhammadu Buhari, what’s your take on that?
Well, unless someone is going to come out from the ground, of all the people we are seeing lining up in the PDP, they are characters known to Mr President and all of us. We know their weight, capability and the resourcesfulness of all of them. Unless from the moon or from the ground, there is no one to match the integrity of Mr President. We are waiting for that miracle to happen but if these characters that are jumping from pillars to post, fortune hunters or power hunters, if you are talking about those kind of people, I am not the spokesman of the president but I assure you that the president is ready, and willing to confront them anytime, any day and anywhere.
I think we need to look at the way we operate this democracy, guide it properly in the best interests of the people, not in the best interest of individuals.
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